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NFL players critical of league’s new helmet rule

Former Seahawk and current 49ers CB Richard Sherman sounded off on the NFL's new rule. (AP)

ORLANDO, FL. – Members of the NFL Competition Committee left the NFL owners meetings Wednesday with their heads up – and now, NFL players better follow suit.

Figuring out a better way to determine whether a pass is or isn’t a catch was supposed to be the headline of the meeting when owners, general managers, and coaches arrived Sunday. Instead, a bigger topic came forward: urging from coaches to be tougher against helmet hits.

The college targeting rule was expected to be among the proposals discussed, but the rule that was passed Tuesday far exceeded anything anyone expected. Starting this fall, if a player lowers his helmet and makes contact with a player he is going to receive a 15-yard penalty. If the hit is too viscous, he could be ejected.

Committee chairman Rich McKay explained the need for change: safety, which remains a priority for the league.

The committee spent weeks looking at the numbers, and found the number of concussions have increased in each of the past three years, rising from roughly 33 percent to the mid forties.

As a response, the committee ended up making a bigger statement than would the targeting rule that exists in college. Of note, they made this rule change non specific: It applies to all players, not just defenders. Lowering the head and making physical contact using your helmet will result in a flag.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman called the new rule ridiculous.

“It’s like telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you’re getting a ticket,” Sherman told USA Today. “It’s going to lead to more lower-extremity injuries.”

Washington cornerback Josh Norman wonders how anyone can play the game because helmets routinely, and inadvertently, make contact. Ryan Shazier of the Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a potential career-ending neck injury on a hit that would have been flagged under the new rule.

McKay offers that the change was done to protect the hitter and the hittee.

Don’t be surprise if more change is ahead in future owners meetings. Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, a former NFL safety, is also a part of the Committee and has concerns about kickoffs. Murphy told reporters Wednesday that the concussion rate on kickoffs is five times higher, and this is after the rule change that promoted more touchbacks and less kickoff returns.

“If you don’t make changes to make it safer, we are going to have to do away with it,” Murphy told reporters. “It’s that serious.”

Again, there isn’t going to be any change to the kickoff this season, but clearly it is going to be watched closely.

What will be interesting to see is how the new helmet rule affects the Seahawks. To his credit, Pete Carroll has been at the forefront of coaches teaching safer tackling methods. And if the competition doesn’t keep up on better tackling methods, they could be at a disadvantage.

Stay tuned.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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